Sunday, October 21, 2007

Banjo Brothers Commuter Backpack Review

This has been on my "todo" list for a while now. I purchased this backpack in July, but I haven't used it consistently until recently.

Disclaimer: I paid full pop for this pack, so I can say what I want.

I have been looking for a waterproof pack for quite some time now. Most packs in this category are expensive and I do have to say that the Banjo Brothers pack is dirt cheap for what you get. I have been bike commuting for about 20 years now. I used packs in my early days of commuting, but then moved to panniers. For the past 10 years I have used the MEC Aqua-Not Panniers. They have been absolutely bullet proof. Everything is dry when I get to work and I don't have any weight on my back, which is nice.

The problem started when I began bringing my laptop home from work. I wanted to protect the laptop from the shock it would get in a pannier by putting it in a pack. This worked out Ok, but what I really needed was a pack that I could use year round in Vancouver. It rains a bit in Vancouver (that could be the understatement of the century).

Now there are quite a few reviews of this pack out there on the net. I particularly enjoyed Fatty's review -tres awesome, and the boys from Commute by Bike and Bike Commuters showed that if you hose down the pack it stays dry inside. But what about rain? None of the reviewers live in areas where it rains. It rains in Vancouver, so this will be the ONLY credible review of the ability of this pack to stay dry inside.

So far this fall it has been wet in the Pacific Northwest. So wet in fact that I haven't been riding too much -- yes that wet. On the occasions that I have ridden, I have done so with this backpack. I carry a some clothes, lunch, laptop and camera. To date nothing has seeped in from the outside. One day my wife made me lunch, which in itself is unusual, and I packed it in the pack -- the lunch leaked (I think it was spaghetti and sauce) but nothing made it through the pack -- so it's waterproof in both directions, in and out. That was an uncomfortable day, spaghetti sauce in the skivvies and all.

I have ridden in torrential downpours and even though I am soaked to the skin --even with an entrant jacket on, my laptop has never short circuited due to wetness.

The pack is also generally comfortable. It has extra long straps so that it can sit low on the back and be supported by your hips as you are riding. This is a significant improvement over most packs that sit high on your back and lead to a sore neck and extra weight on your arms.

Those are the positives, now some gripes. Those long straps I spoke of aren't very padded. Being a skinny cyclist I find that they dig into my collar bones and after about 20 minutes it actually becomes a bit painful. The straps are also very wide apart and, again for a skinny cyclist, this width causes the straps to slip off my shoulders. To combat this there is a sternum strap that I find I need to use all the time.

One of the reasons the straps dig in so badly is the fact that with some clothes, my laptop and lunch -- no shoes or pants-- the pack weighs about a thousand pounds, ok maybe not a thousand, but at least 15lbs. In fact with my pump spare tube and a multitool the pack weighs 5 pounds. Now you have to remember that this pack is 1500 cubic inches. It's huge, which is good, but you can get carried away packing too much stuff into it and then, no matter where it sits on your back, it is going to take you where IT wants to go.

After having this pack for a few months now I do have to say that it is nice that everything stays dry in it. There are other options out there though. In fact a regular pack with a dry bag in it -- the Outdoor Research ones are beautiful (light and waterproof) -- and a rain cover would do quite nicely and be a LOT lighter. The only difference is that regular packs do sit higher on your back.

So bottom line time:


Lots of reflective material
U-lock pocket
Sits low on back for good visibility (over your shoulder) and good weight placement (on your hips)
relatively inexpensive


Uncomfortable shoulder straps

Pros win. I'll keep it.


  • Nice review and constructive feedback. We have made some comfort tweaks to the 2008 Model which will ship in March 08 and shortened the straps a bit to avoid the annoyance factor.

    We're also introducing a bigger bag for the gluttons for punishment.

    Cheers and stay dry!

    Banjo Brothers

    By Anonymous Mike, at 9:19 PM  

  • Thanks for the comments Mike. Let me know if I can review something else for you.

    By Blogger pedalmaniac, at 5:51 AM  

  • hey I've been trying to find these bags. I live in Victoria and can't find a shop that carries them. Where did you get yours?

    By Anonymous Stephen, at 12:43 PM  

  • I got mine through Hiawatha Cyclery . The service was quick and friendly and came in the mail without incident.

    By Blogger pedalmaniac, at 3:52 PM  

  • Thank you for the updates, Mike. I just purchased a new commuter bag from your website based on this and other reviews on the 'net. Glad to hear your company listens to its customers! :)

    By Anonymous Michael, at 1:53 PM  

  • Thanks for the great review Pedalmaniac and thanks for the 2008 updates Mike. i also just bought a bag based on this. I love it!

    By Blogger Eric, at 3:36 PM  

  • Thanks Mike,

    I should probably write a follow up to this post. The good news is that I am using this pack all the time now (I have taken my rack for panniers off my bike).

    The bad news is that the liner is already breaking down -- I suspect it is replaceable though.

    By Blogger pedalmaniac, at 11:26 AM  

  • Having tried many other bags, my search is over. I wouldn’t change a thing about this bag which is unusual for me to say. It’s balanced specifically for cycling and is so comfortable I seriously forget it’s on sometimes. Sits low on the back and doesn’t block over the shoulder vision like so many other bags. I actually use the chest strap which keeps it very stable. Comes with a waste strap that is probably unnecessary but fortunately is detachable.The small pockets are perfectly sized for wallet, glasses, etc. Most other packs I tried actually had TOO MANY little pockets such that I could never find anything ! There is a cell phone holder in just the right position on the shoulder strap. The main compartment of the medium is a perfect size for change of clothes and a pair of shoes and could hold more if you wanted, such as a laptop. I think the large would be way too big for most people. Thanks Banjo Bros. Now if you could only get my employer to provide a shower !!!!!!!!!

    By Blogger rrgmrg, at 9:10 AM  

  • This back pack is MADE IN CHINA…can you say, Bejing Brothers? I checked one out after brief email correspondence with company rep via their web site. company rep responded quickly and with useful info, but when i went to buy the backpack i saw that it was made in china. this might not bother people some folks, and probably accounts for the decent price. but the website is so down home small town just 2 good ole guys from minnesota that i expected better.

    By Blogger Joe, at 5:29 PM  

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